Absurd Logic of the Russell Place Condos Board in Arlington, MA

This is about an interior fence in Arlington that is so revered by the Russell Place Condo Board, that they can think of absolutely no change that can be done to it, whether small or large.

Is this a border or boundary fence, you might ask? No, it isn't.

Is this a structural fence, you might ask? No, it isn't.

Is this protecting an important section, guiding peoples' passage, you might ask? No, it doesn't.

It ends up a pretty funny story and shows the absurd logic of the Board in defending their "No" answers regarding any change to the wooden fence.

The web is filled with the stories about crazy things that Condo Board of Trustees do. Most stories are nightmares, such as the Home Sweet Hell news report, and an entire blog devoted to Condos Nightmares And Other Enigmas.

The links above have quotes like "... That meant they controlled what condo fees everyone in the three-unit building paid, what would or wouldn’t get done to the property’s common areas..." and a description of what happens to normal people when they have to deal with a board of trustees - you enter the world of Rights-Deprived Citizens in America!

The articles above suggest that very small condo associations are a problem because a small number of people can gang up and completely control what goes on in the entire condo complex.
And that larger groups are much better, because no one small group can dictate their terms over all.
It sort-of makes sense, but turns out that does not turn out like that in practice.
In reality, only a small number of people really care to vote on issues. A large number of people are very busy with their lives, so that again leaves the Board in complete power and control. This is an important point for people purchasing a condominium. Whether small or large, expect that common-sense or reasonable debates about change are not going to happen with the Board. So when you buy a place, you will have to live with the way things are for a few years at least and bear the stupidity of cliques that form in condo associations.

This story is about an interior fence in Russell Place, Arlington, MA (map), and it reads like an absurdist drama.

The key object in this story is in this picture: The Sacred Fence of Russell Fence.

That fence has carved out a section of the land that no one except one unit owner has access too. This unit owner is part of the clique who believe they run this place - they don't follow the rules of the condo association when they feel like it but will insist everyone else follow the rules they like.
The 2011 Board at Russell Place in Arlington, MA includes these units: [to be filled in], and the complex has 40 condos.

Here's the way the debate about this fence went. The answers are the response from this board.

  1. This fence has existed for 8 years. It blocks access from the rear of the building. It does not serve any purpose, it is not an outer fence. It is in the rear of one of the buildings. No one expect a small number of people (< 10%) use that area, even they use it irregularly. Can we remove the fence or re-route it to improve the access of bikes or other large objects from the rear?
    Board: "No."
  2. No? So is this fence important? What purpose does it serve?
    Board: "It's been around for eight years. Why change it now?" This gem of an argument shows the typical of the level of debate with this Board! - It has existed for ever, so we can't entertain any changes at all now.
    Board: "It protects the building from the adjacent baseball field." This is truly an astounding reason for someone to even bring up. There is already another fence around the batter in the field. And yet another partial fence around the baseball field. On top of all this, the batter is facing the other way - the balls are hit away from the building.
  3. But OK, so let's grant that the fence protects us from projectiles from baseball field. Surely moving the fence a a few feet inside the currently blocked off area would be fine then, since we will still have the fence, just moved a bit.
    Board: "No." And that was it. Just a no.
  4. The outside of the fence is an area that multiple condo owners can make use of. The blocked, inside area is completely useless to all owners. We do need privacy from the baseball field. So how about making a larger fence - make it of thick bushes to increase greenery and have it cover a larger area, instead of this partial wooden fence.
    Board: "No." And that was it. Just a no. So this change would now keep the fence, make it even more effective in stopping imaginary projectiles from the baseball field. The Board says "NO".
  5. Can we move/remove 3 of the panels?
    Board: "No."
    Can we move/remove 2 of the panels?
    Board: "No."
    Can we move/remove 1 panel?
    Board: "No."
  6. Is the cost of alteration an issue? If so, I then suggested that I would pay for the whole thing myself - there will be no increase in general fees to make the change. And we would get a professional landscaper to help redo that area so we meet the goals of privacy from the baseball field, and easier and direct access for people who need it.
    Board: "No."

Do people park their common-sense and intelligence when they become condo Board members? Or do only such people who are out to protect their clique and like to engage in absurd arguments, end up having the time to become condo board members?

This interaction with the board has been quite comedic - and I hope this encounter will disabuse condo buyers in large associations of the notion of getting sensible actions from the Board. The majority may be on your side - but as happened in this case, around 25% sided with the Board by saying no changes, 25% others said sure, let's consider changes if it helps, and 50% just did not wish to respond even after multiple tries to solicit an opinion. That is fine actually since it is the Board which needs to spend the time and effort to look into such issues - but as it shows with the 2011 Board at Russell Place in Arlington, MA - common-sense and reasonable attitudes are in short supply, while absurdism rules supreme.

December 2011: After too many unreasonable, unfair, and secretive actions by the Board, I decided to post details on how this condo board works, a nice lesson on how condos in general work. Here then are the Russell Place Board Absurdities on a separate page.